Letter to the Editor: Voluntary Assisted Dying Legal in Victoria, Australia

Ashley Lusk’s plea for making Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) available in Wisconsin may be assisted by considering the situation in Victoria Australia, where VAD, legalized in 2017, is currently undergoing a five-year review.

The safeguards are very similar to those Lusk proposes: adults only, assessed by two doctors as having under six months to live, suffering lethal disease or degenerative condition, capable of consenting to the process. A witnessed, written document requesting the procedures is required. The State has established a Navigator Service to assist people to work through the system.

Doctors involved in the program are required to undergo training in the system’s operation. Several hundreds have reportedly now completed this, with many more engaged in the training and accreditation. 

About 70% of those approved self-administer the prescribed drug; the rest are administered by a medical practitioner. A very small percentage of applicants withdraw their request. Some have the drug delivered but choose not to use it.

A third of the accredited medical practitioners are outside the main city of Melbourne, so access for people in small, rural towns is well-provided for. According to the statistics, about two-thirds of the applicants have advanced cancers and another 20% have advanced degenerative conditions. Eighty-seven percent were still living in their own homes; very few were in nursing homes. VAD accounts for 0.6% of deaths in the state.

The system has been working, it seems, with prompt assessments and delivery of the drug. Since Victoria pioneered the program in Australia, the other five states have now passed similar legislation, the last one to go into operation late this year.

Doctors and hospitals with conscientious objections to participating are excused, but are required to provide information about the process and about practitioners who willingly administer it.

Robert Bender

Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin